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Mars gains sweet cloud savings with Azure Cost Management

Azure Cost Management, which helps customers track spend on the cloud platform, can provide sweet rewards if used correctly and comprehensively, according to candy maker Mars.

ORLANDO -- Microsoft plans to extend Azure Cost Management to Google Cloud next year, as customers like candy maker Mars report significant savings on their Azure bills with the tool.

"It used to be awful, boring and time-consuming to get cost management details out of Azure," said Jim Bragg, senior cloud analyst at Mars, during a session at the Ignite conference this week. "You had to download this enormous file, which sometimes bombed. Then you had to import it into Excel, run pivot tables and get whatever you needed out of it. Very long and tedious."

But today, Azure Cost Management ingests customers' spend data and presents it to them with interactive visualizations that tap about 20 dimensions, such as availability zones, usage locations and service names. They can also set down budgets for particular Azure services to avoid unexpectedly high bills and run forecasts to plan for the mid- and long term.

Bragg cited an example of a Mars DevOps team that began using Logic Apps, Azure's integration PaaS. "They [ran] up a $25K bill," he said. "I [didn't] know what they were doing because we didn't have budgets turned on to that subscription. So now we do, to keep governance, because cost avoidance is key."

Cost allocation is now in private preview within Azure Cost Management. This accounting discipline was previously very complex to do for Azure workloads in a manual way, and it hits at an important reality for cloud spending, according to Bragg.

It used to be awful, boring and time-consuming to get cost management details out of Azure.
Jim BraggSenior cloud analyst, Mars Inc.

"If you think about a business application, if you just look at the server and storage, it's not the true cost of the application," he said. "You really want to be able to [include] background infrastructure like backup or ExpressRoute, so your senior management knows the true cost."

But Mars' biggest success with Azure Cost Management has been in connection with rightsizing application instances.

Many companies shut down their on-premises data center as part of a move to the cloud but then have to map virtual machines they had run into the new environment, Bragg said. While Azure Advisor provides recommendations on this front, changes aren't so simply made in the real world, he added.

"You can't just go to your application team and say we're going to resize your machines," he said. "You've got to persuade them."

Azure Cost Management can provide metrics that show an application's CPU usage and compare it to the recommended VM size for a reality check. "You use this evidence to persuade," Bragg said. Mars has saved $500,000 this year through rightsizing efforts, he added.

Multi-cloud drives cost management question

Azure cost management has its roots in Microsoft's 2017 purchase of Cloudyn, which offered cost management capabilities for Azure, AWS and Google. Microsoft initially sold Cloudyn in its original form but over time migrated its technology into Azure Cost Management.

In May, Microsoft announced support for AWS in Azure Cost Management, and plans to deprecate Cloudyn next year, according to a Microsoft slide shown during the Ignite session.

Azure Cost Management's AWS support remains in preview but will become generally available next year, the slide showed. Initial Google Cloud support is set to arrive sometime next year as well.

Microsoft turns on Azure Cost Management by default for Azure customers at no charge. But customers will be charged 1% of their total spend on other clouds if they use Azure Cost Management to track costs there.

There remains a robust market of third-party cloud cost management vendors, one that could remain if for no other reason than a customer's unwillingness to rely on a primary provider's version of the truth.

Meanwhile, although Microsoft didn't reveal any specific plans, over time Azure Cost Management could be integrated with Azure Arc, a hybrid cloud offering  announced this week at Ignite.

Azure Arc gives customers the ability to manage their Windows and Linux server farms on premises, as well as control Kubernetes-based container clusters "on any infrastructure across on premises, multi-cloud and edge," according to Microsoft.

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